SanDisk is pushing a 32-gig flash disk that costs multiple hundreds of dollars more than a large hard drive. (Here’s The Register’s take on it.) One figure they cite is a 100-fold+ improvement in access speed. The speed difference between disk and silicon, of course, is something I’ve focused on in my research into memory-centric data management, and also in some of the work on data warehouse appliances as well. They are proposing this as the entire fixed memory for laptops. And in a much cheaper vein, Nicholas Negroponte is proposing a diskless architecture for the 100-dollar laptop.
But to me, the really interesting future here is PCs with removable persistent solid-state storage. I wrote about the subject a year ago, and I just want to take this opportunity to remind people that’s it’s a desirable and not-implausible way for personal computing and consumer electronics to evolve. If the storage part of the system can be separated out, what you’re left with is mainly the human-facing I/O and the processing power to drive that. So from where I sit, portable external storage could drive an explosion in interesting and useful electronic device form factors.